Can You Celebrate the Success of the Queen of Hip-Pop Amuro Namie 20 Years Later?

namieamuro-bodyfeelsexit

Body feels exit

Body feels excite

Koko made donna michi wo aruite

Anata to yatto tadoritsuita ka wo

Nanika miezu ni dakedo nanika wo

Mitsuketakatta yo heya ni hitorikiri

Hiza wo kakaete ugokenakutatte body feels!

– “Body Feels Exit” (1995) by Namie Amuro [1]

If you ever came across a Japanese poImage and video hosting by TinyPicp song, more than likely it was by Namie Amuro. For the past twenty-three years, Namie Amuro has become a household name as she is everywhere in Japan: CDs, magazine covers, commercials, billboards, pamphlets, and even in stores. Whether it is because of her youthful, beautiful looks or her superb vocal skills, Namie Amuro is a pop icon that will be around for a long time.

You are probably asking, “Didn’t Amuro make her musical debut in 1992? Why are you writing an article about her and her 20th anniversary now?”

It is true that Amuro did make her musical debut in 1992 when she was apart of the teenage girl group Super Monkey’s. However, it was twenty years ago today, October 25, that Amuro peeled herself away from the idol group and made a name of herself by starting her solo career off with the single “Body Feels Exit”. I am not ignoring the fact that many, including at one point her official site, have said that the singles “Taiyou no Season” and “Stop the Music” is part of Amuro’s solo discography. However, if you look at the backs of “Taiyou no Season” and “Stop the Music”, the singles are credited under the name “Amuro Namie with Super Monkey’s” as she was still part of the group until the summer of 1995. I consider “Body Feels Exit” as her true solo debut single as it features none of the remaining Super Monkey’s members as dancers (at least in the music video) or backing vocals unlike the “Amuro Namie with Super Monkey’s” ones.

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On the mist of her solo debut, Amuro Namie was already a household name in 1995 as her last two singles with Super Monkey’s became top ten singles. She also appeared in various commercials, magazines, movies, and television shows, including the extremely cute kids show “Ponkikkids“. Whenever she wasn’t donning a pink rabbit suit, Amuro would be found on music programs, attracting various viewers with her sexy, fast-paced dance moves and good sense of style. In fact, it was that sense of style that helped to boost Amuro into the top spot of Japanese pop culture by the end of 1995. Even the fashion featured on her debut single spawn a cult following as the  term “Amura” described anyone who had the combination of dyed brown hair, tan skin, and white boots.

Over the years, Amuro adapted her sound and style to keep up with the ever-changing pop culture. Slowly, Amuro shed the eurodance-sound found in her earlier works and went for a more R&B/hip-hop one, starting in 1999 with “toi et toi”. As the Japanese music industry was shifting from dance pop to R&B, mainly thanks to Utada Hikaru, Amuro struggled with the shift as “toi et toi” was branded as a failure and other singles failed to crack the top ten. Actually, the 2002 single “Wishing on the Same Star” was supposed to be her last before a hiatus that would have her go to the US for artist development.[2] However, the single was a success and Amuro was allowed to continue her career.
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It wasn’t until 2004 with the release of “Queen of Hip-Pop” that Amuro fully cement her as a R&B/hip-hop artist. As much as I hate “Want Me, Want Me“, it is a perfect example of Amuro’s hip-hop sound as it presents a backbeat (sitar) and Amuro singing the verses in a style that is similar to rapping. Other perfect examples would be the R&B-flavored dance tune “Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” (2006) and her triple A-side single “60s 70s 80s” (2008). ‘Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” is one of favorite Amuro songs in the past ten years as it features a slick saxophone, a hip interlude, and a catchy chorus. Amuro’s vocals are perfect for this song as they are smooth yet sassy.

Recently, Amuro has gotten back into dance music with the release of “genic” this year. However, she hasn’t forgotten her R&B roots as she fuses that sound with EDM throughout the album. A good example of this fusion would be “Fashionista“. The sultry opening is mostly R&B-flavored with a baritone saxophone and an electric organ mixed in with programmed clapping. It isn’t until the chorus that the song transforms into a EDM tune.

Whether your like the idol pop AImage and video hosting by TinyPicmuro, dance-pop Amuro, or the sultry R&B Amuro, many would agree that over the years, Amuro has had a huge impact on the Japanese pop culture thanks to her music and style. Many artists today and in the past have influenced by Amuro’s style. Even some have tried to copy her, in the case of the 90s’ ASAYAN group FBI. Whatever the case may be, Amuro has overcome many transformations over the years. And because of that, she will always shine brightly as a Japanese pop culture legend.

(As you can or cannot tell, Amuro Namie is one of my favorite singers. I first got into her when avex trax has an online streaming channel for music videos back in the early 2000s. I remember the first video of hers that I watched, it was “You’re my sunshine” (1996). She later became my role model in junior high and high school as she was a great singer, always looked so beautiful, and had a great sense of style. I was lucky enough to see her live in 2012 with her Domes tour. I was also verrrrrrrrry lucky to see her up-close as I had second row tickets. That was a dream came true!)

Check out a live performance on some TV show of “Body Feel Exit”:

And the original music video:


References

[1] “Amuro Namie – Body Feels Exit.” Kiwii Musume 26 Oct. 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. {http://www.kiwi-musume.com/lyrics/amunami/sweet19blues/bodyfeelsexit.htm}

[2] “Wikipedia: Wishing on the Same Star.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Apr. 2006. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishing_on_the_Same_Star)

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“Dance trance all in a globe”: A Celebration of a Timeless Trio

globe-1998

One of the first Japanese pop groups I ever discovered was globe. A trio that included a legendary producer, a virtual unknown, and a up-and-coming rapper and VJ. This year marks their twentieth anniversary since their debut single. Since their debut, globe has changed the Japanese pop music scene in their own way.

After TM Network performed their final live concert TMN 4001 DAYS GROOVE in the spring of 1994, keyboardist Komuro Tetsuya decided to form a three-piece band with MTV VJ and DJ Marc Panther. Komuro was one of the hottest producers in the Japanese music scene by that time. Along with being a member of the mega-popular band TM Network, he was also producing hits after hits with artists like Mizuki Arisa, TRF, Watanabe Misato, and others. His most famous single, “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokoro Tsuyosa to”, a collaboration with ex-Tokyo Performance Doll member Shinohara Ryoko, was released in the summer of 1994 and sold over two million copies. With all this prestige, Komuro was looking to create another super group.

But, what should it be? With whom?

The first member, which was mentioned above, was Marc Panther. He was going to be the rapper of the group while Komuro was going to be the producer, keyboardist, composer, and backing vocals. Komuro choose the band’s genre as eurodance. Which made Marc’s role easier to understand because a lot of dance music from the West incorporated rapping into their high-energy music. Nevertheless, all they needed was a lead vocalist, which Komuro would find in one his many talent auditions. He picked a then-unknown young adult from southern Japan named Yamada Keiko.

The group made their debut on August 9th, 1995 with the song “Feel Like dance”. At first, keiko’s face was obscured during TV and public appearances as the company thought it would be a neat idea to have a “ZARD-like”, mysterious member. The first single’s music video was actually all done in CGI. (Which would have another version later on with the member’s faces.) It wasn’t until the second single, “Joy to the love”, when we first saw the members.[1]

1996 proved to be a monumental year for the group. They released the wintry break-up song, “DEPARTURES”, in January with huge success. The single was the band’s first number single to chart on the Oricon charts and it sold over two million copies. Their self-debut album was more impressive as it sold over four million copies.

By the end of the decade, globe proven to be one of the top artists in Japan with all their singles charting in the top 10, many reaching the number one position. However, the group changed during the new millennium as they steered away from eurodance and got their hands dirty by experimenting with house and trance. One the best examples to describe globe’s trance sound is the 2002 album “Lights2”, especially with the instrumental piece “TRANSCONTINENTAL WAY”.

keiko and Komuro got married following the release of “Lights2”. Also, the group’s activities slow down tremendously by 2005 as keiko started her solo career, Marc was sort of continuing his, and Komuro was heavily involved with the restart of his old band TM Network.

However, the group has also been facing setbacks since mid-2000s. One of these setbacks happened in 2008 when Komuro was arrested and sentenced for fraud. The group was supposed to released their thirty-first single, a cover of TM Network’s signature song “GET WILD”, on November 26. However, it was shelved and later placed on a best album due Komuro’s arrest.

Another setback happened in 2011 when keiko was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home. It was later discovered that she suffered from subarachnoid haemorrhage and went to rehabilitation, which she is still primarily focusing on at the moment. Two years after the tragic incident,  Marc and Komuro decided to continue the group without keiko by releasing a series of remix albums; “globe EDM Sessions” (2013), “GDM” (2014), and “Remode 1” (2015). These new albums had past favorites updated as EDM-styled songs, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet. Although, I have seen Marc and Komuro recently doing nightclub tours to promote “Remode 1” and their 20th anniversary. It looks like the lives were a great success judging by the pictures and messages.

i first got into globe when I was a junior high school student. Back in the early 2000s, avex trax had three main music video channels that were streamed over the net for free. I would always spend my free time watching these channels as I was just beginning to get into Jpop. The first globe song that I listened to was their 2002 trance-flavored “OVER THE RAINBOW”. What made me like the song was the mystical but yet mysterious synthesizers and keiko’s pure vocals.  However, I would become more in love with its b-side, “INSPIRED FROM RED & BLUE”, as it so emotional and powerful.

I think the emotional side of globe’s songs made me like them when I was younger. Even though I didn’t know a lot of Japanese back then, I would understand the emotional side of each song due to how keiko used her vocals. I could feel such emotions like sadness in “DEPARTURES”, frustration in “Wanna be a dreammaker”, and longing in “Wanderin’ Destiny” thanks to keiko’s efforts. And due to that, these songs helped me during the most difficult times of my life.

keiko’s techniques would also inspire me when I started voice lessons. keiko will always be one my biggest inspirations for singing because I really admire her ability to hit high notes, her marvellous tone, and the ability to put a lot of emotions in her singing. So, in honor of globe’s twentieth anniversary, I sang globe’s debut song. Now, I am no keiko, as you can recognize while listening. But, I had lots of fun singing and also rapping.

Please listen to my cover here: 

Here is the original:

“Feel like dance” isn’t my favorite globe song. I don’t think it’s even in my top five list….

…However, here is my top five list for globe songs:

5. SWEET PAIN (1995)

4. FREEDOM (1996) / Love again (1998)

3. Music Takes Me Higher (from the album “globe”; 1996)

2. INSPIRED BY RED & BLUE (2002)

1. Wanderin’ Destiny (1997; which was the theme song for the drama “Aoi Tori”, starring one of my favorite actors Toyokawa Etsushi.)


References

[1] “Globe.” Globe – Wikipedia. 24 June 2004. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.  (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globe)

30 Years of an “Overnight Success”

teridesario-overnightsuccess

January 21, 1985.

Do you remember what you were doing that day? Do you recall what you bought? Did you, by any chance, buy Teri DeSario’s new album “Overnight Success”? Probably not, if you lived in any part of the world that’s not Japan, as the album and its tie-in singles were only released there.

However, you might have heard of Teri DeSario as she is no stranger to the American music scene. In the late 1970s, she was popular at many dance clubs when her disco-themed debut album “Pleasure Train” was released. The first single from the album, “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Keep Me from You”, was a minor hit as it reached #77 on the US charts. “Pleasure Train” also marked the start of a long-standing musical relationship between DeSario and Joey Carbone (who I mentioned earlier this month with the Bay Canyons post).

A hit single came in 1980 when she released the single “Yes, I’m Ready” with K.C from the KC and the Sunshine Band. The single went to #2 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart, only being outranked by Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Sadly, disco music began to fade out from the American popular music scene soon after the single was released. Her record company persuaded DeSario to adapt to more of a female rock sound and copy the likes of Pat Benatar for her third album, “Caught”. With little promotion and a genre change, “Caught” was met with poor sales, causing DeSario to bounce from one musical genre to another.

When Desario started to work on her seventh studio album, she decided to go back to the genre that helped her to achieve fame; disco. Her record company knew that Japan was the place to make her a star once again. The reason was that disco didn’t really fade out from the Japanese music industry during that time, unlike in America. Instead, it kept on evolving and changing. However, the disco found in Japan during the mid-1980s wasn’t the same kind of disco that was found in the 1970s from the acts of Earth, Wind, and Fire, Donna Summers, Jackson 5, and so on. It was completely different as this type of disco came from the idea of Italo disco; which was a heavy electronic, high energy dance genre from Italy. Some famous Italo disco songs were Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy”, Laura Branigan’s “Self Control”, and Sabrina’s “Boys”  If you don’t know these songs, you can get a taste of Italo disco with this wonderful compilation on Youtube.

DeSario asked Joey Carbone to help write and performed on several tracks for her new album. She also enlisted the aid of guitarist Richie Zito, who worked with artists like Toni Basil, Cheap Trick, Ratt, and others.* Released on January 21, 1985, “Overnight Success” was a huge hit in Japan as it charted #48 on the yearly Oricon chart.

To kick things off, the team picked the high energy, feel good title song to be the first track on the album  The song starts off with an innocent crystallized keyboard sound and a solid bass drum beat for a few seconds. Then, with a small lead in, the guitar and synthesizer come roaring in to set up the song. These instruments provide the energy while DeSario’s voice and the song’s uplifting lyrics supply the raw power. The lyrics are about dealing with the struggles and the hard times that one may face while not forgetting about the dreams and determinations that one holds. Because, these are “the key to your happiness” and gives anyone the power to succeed. Yes, you might have heard these themes countless times before in other songs. But, what makes “Overnight Success” a unique song is how the lyrics are interpreted by DeSario’s way of singing. You can feel the song’s passion, determination, dreams, and strength by just listening to Teri.

The music video’s story is very charming, inspiring, and even makes you experience nostalgia with that 80s fashion. Those workout outfit! Ahhh, the horror! Besides the video’s fashion, it  includes this “once young” actor who is now referred to as “McDreamy” and has starred in countless TV shows and movies like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Enchanted”.

patrickdempsey

A cute video, right? Here is the 12″ remix of the title song:

Happy 30th Anniversary, “Overnight Success”! You may be a bit outdated. But, that has never stop you to be a rare find and an excellent album to listen to. May you continue to inspire others to never give up their dreams and find their “key to happiness”.

*Fun Fact for all those anime buffs out there: Joey Carbone and Richie Zito would later compose the soundtrack for the 1986 anime “Project A-Ko”. Isn’t that cool?